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What is Brand Architecture?

Brand architecture, put simply, is how an organisation is structured. How each sub-brand, product or service relates to the overarching brand. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of brand architecture, its importance in marketing strategies, and the different types of brand architecture models.

What exactly is brand architecture?

If you have more than one product or service offering, you need to know your brand architecture. It will determine how each of the sub-brands and their individual identities relate to one another, how they’re structured, and how they integrate into the overall brand system.

It’s usually the first thing we visit in our brand workshops when undertaking a rebranding or repositioning project, as it drives decisions made further down the line. Establishing your architecture early on future-proofs the brand so you know exactly how a new product or service will fit into your existing brand.

Why is brand architecture is important for marketers to know?

Well, it lets them know how much or little to differentiate a brand, and when a brand may need to be aligned to another within the structure. For example, the marketing director of Virgin Money knows, due to the brand architecture, that the way an additional brand being added to the portfolio would portray itself needs to be similar to other Virgin brands. There would be a sense of cohesion and unity to the marketing, alongside Virgin Airlines and Virgin Holidays. Whereas someone working on a brand under a different architecture may be able to approach the marketing in a different way, as all brands under the umbrella may be completely separate to one another.

a title at the top says "adding a new product or service?" and three options below show different brand architectures. Left to right: The House of brands diagram with one shape at the top linking down to all different shapes. below reads "create a whole new brand with its own identity?" next is the endorsed diagram, with a circle at the top representing the master brand, and 5 circles below, but each has a different shape inside, representing the association to the main brand. text says "make a sub-brand, retaining the association to the main brand?" and finally, on the right, is the diagram for monolithis brand architecture, which is a top circle linking down to 5 other circles, showing that, like apple, this brand architecture means that all brands within it share the same main brand, and it's all one of the same. just different products or services within the brand. reads: can it be a service/product underneath the main umbrella?

A couple of key concepts

Before we go any further, it’s worth understanding a couple of concepts: the master brand and a brand extension. And the difference between a brand extension and a line extension.

Master brand

The master brand represents the top-level brand that encompasses all the other branded products and services within an organisation. If you’ve heard of the term “umbrella company”, or the “parent company”, a master brand is exactly that. It serves as the primary identifier and carrier of the overall brand identity. The “main” company, if you will. An example of a master brand is Procter & Gamble (P&G), which falls under the House of Brands architecture model. P&G owns a diverse portfolio of famous brands like Gillette, Ariel, Tide (sold mostly in the USA), Tampax and Pantene, each with its own distinct brand identity and target audience. Other examples of master brands are L’Oréal, COTY, Shisedo, Nestlé, and Unilever.

Brand extension

Brand extension happens when a recognised brand introduces a new product or service that expands beyond its existing offerings. A completely different product or service. For example, P&G’s brand extensions include a variety of different types of products, ranging from laundry detergent (Ariel/Tide) to razors (Gillette) and shampoo (Pantene). Unilever’s brand extensions are varied too, from Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to Domestos bleach.

Brand extension vs line extension

A line extension for Coca Cola would be binging out a chocolate flavoured Coke drink. Ignore the fact that that sounds absolutely vile for a second, and understand that this would be a new product in an existing category. Think Oreo mint flavour, Oreo birthday cake flavour. They’re all line extensions.

A brand extension, as we’ve discussed, is when an existing brand offers a new product in a product category the brand has never competed in. This would be like Coca Cola bringing out an aftershave. Or Oreo bringing out a moisturiser. Ok that one actually sounds good.

P and G logo appears above lots of other brands owned by P&G like tampax, herbal essences, Oral B, Flash, Ariel. This is brand extention. Underneath, a separate diagram shows the dairy milk logo with lots of different dairy milk flavours below. this is line extension.

Understanding the different types of brand architecture

There are four main architecture types, each with its own strategic approach and benefits. Not all will be suitable for all businesses, it depends on the kind of ‘branches’ you have off the main brand. Let’s explore each of them in more detail.

Branded House (or Monolithic)

The Branded House model (also known as monolithic) has a strong parent brand (previously known as a master brand), usually recognised as the “main” brand. Think Apple. Underneath the parent brand, there are several subdivisions (child brands) that feature the parent brand name along with the specific product or service associated with it. Think Apple Music. Apple TV, Apple Watch. (The way their products tie together is actually a bit of a sticky one as they all started with the “i”, and slowly moved over to Apple, but they do still remain as a monolithic brand).

What are the benefits of a branded house? Well, this structure can accommodate new brand extensions seamlessly without threatening the overall brand identity. It leverages the strength of the parent brand to build customer expectations and positive associations with each subsection. You’re more likely to buy vanilla flavoured Oreos than a completely unknown biscuit brand offering the same thing, because you know and trust Oreo as a brand. However, it’s important to note that negative experiences or perceptions associated with one sub-brand can potentially impact the perception of other subsections as well. If the vanilla Oreos taste awful, it might put you off Oreos in general for a while.

apple TV, Apple music, apple news and more apple products sit underneath an Apple logo.


The endorsed brand architecture is a strategy where a parent company unites multiple brands under its umbrella without overshadowing their individual identities. You might notice Rice Krispies and Coco Pops are both part of the Kellogg’s family as it’s written on the box. The parent brand gives a stamp of approval to its subsidiary brands, and customers can trust the brand extensions if they trust the parent brand. Although, this does also work the other way around, too.

Endorsed brand architecture lets the parent company expand into different markets or target specific customer segments, while leveraging the reputation and trust associated with their brand. Kellogg’s can appeal to both health-conscious people through Special K and Fruit n Fibre, and also the kids’ market through Rice Krispies, Pop Tarts and Coco Pops. The subsidiary brands benefit from the association without losing their own distinctiveness.

In a nutshell, endorsed brand architecture is a strategy that combines the strengths of a parent brand with the autonomy and identity of its subsidiary brands. It’s a way to collaborate without getting lost in the shuffle.

a circle on the left is at the top of a hierarchy of 5 other circles with different shaped inside, representing the association between the parent brand and the new brand. on the right is an example of Kellogs and some of its associated brands like rice krispies and pringles

House of Brands

The House of Brands approach involves a parent company that owns multiple distinct and familiar brands, each with its own strong brand identity, usually with no real association to the parent brand in any way. The parent company or umbrella brand may not be widely recognised by customers, as the focus is primarily on the individual brands within the portfolio. Procter & Gamble (P&G) is a prime example of a company that follows the House of Brands model. With a vast portfolio of well-known brands we mentioned earlier in the article like Gillette, Tide and Pantene, P&G caters to different target audiences and market segments.

In the House of Brands architecture, each brand operates independently, targeting specific customer segments with tailored marketing strategies. The advantage of this approach is that it protects each brand from the failures of others within the portfolio, ensuring that any reputational damage is contained. It also allows for distinct brand identities and targeted marketing strategies for each brand, as they operate independently under the parent company’s umbrella.

Imagine for a second that you find glass in your food. You’d probably never buy from that brand again. In this brand architecture, you probably would buy from the other brands within the “house” after that experience, because you’re unlikely to even know they’re owned by the same umbrella company. In comparison, in a branded house model, the bad experience would affect all sub-brands under the umbrella in the mind of the customer.

Hybrid Brand Architecture

The Hybrid Brand Architecture approach combines elements of both the Branded House and House of Brands strategies. It allows brand extensions to have their own identity and can be associated with the master brand or operate independently, depending on individual circumstances. This approach provides flexibility, allowing brands to leverage the equity of the parent brand when beneficial or to create entirely independent sub-brands. Toyota is an example of a company that employs the Hybrid Architecture strategy. Toyota, Lexus, and Scion are all distinct brands within the portfolio, but they also share associations with the Toyota master brand.

When developing or refreshing a brand identity and structure, we usually wouldn’t recommend using this structure, as it can be confusing. In our eyes, this structure should only be used in specific circumstances.

a circle sits at the top of the hierarchy on the left, and different shapes appear below it, representing all brands in a house of brands model being different from each other. On the right is an example of P and G, with the brand logo appearing next to other logos such as ariel, flash, pampers etc.

How do you determine your brand architecture?

Determining your brand architecture means laying out all brands and sub-brands within your portfolio, and deciding where and how they all fit together. Here are some questions you can ask yourself, and things to consider to determine your own brand architecture:

Who is our audience?
Is our audience the same for all of our products? Define all target audiences and distinct market segments: Identify the target customers for each of your individual brands or product and service offerings. Understand their needs, preferences, and behaviours to inform your brand architecture decision. Look at any interconnections and overlaps between different market segments. Getting it right at the beginning, before you add many more sub-brands, products or services, will save you a lot of drama down the line.

If you’re a gardening company and you have 4 separate brands and logos for the mowing division, the landscaping division, the bricklaying division and the weeding division, you could probably consolidate them into one brand.

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Can all of our brands stand on their own?

Consider whether you can leverage the strength of individual brands. Highlight the unique value propositions and strengths of each individual brand within your brand portfolio, and determine whether the sub-brands could stand alone if necessary. Could you communicate each brand’s differentiators effectively to your target customers to drive preference and loyalty?

If you’re considering a house of brands model, try to build a compelling brand story. Craft a compelling story behind the brand that resonates with your target audience, and gives it meaning. Incorporate your brand’s values, mission, and purpose into the narrative to create an emotional connection and differentiate your brand from competitors.


Need help understanding your brand structure? Get in touch for a brand workshop to figure everything out.

Or if you’re not quite ready for fully committing to a workshop, why not book a free brand review so we can tell you which architecture you fit into?

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